Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

In this, his fourth novel, Kingsley Amis embarked on a new arrangement of the thematic combinations that had brought him critical recognition for Lucky Jim (1954) and two other works. Many of the comic twists of plot and odd touches of humor present in his early fiction may also be...

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In this, his fourth novel, Kingsley Amis embarked on a new arrangement of the thematic combinations that had brought him critical recognition for Lucky Jim (1954) and two other works. Many of the comic twists of plot and odd touches of humor present in his early fiction may also be found in Take a Girl Like You: Idiosyncratic descriptive passages occur in places but are not presented from any specific character’s point of view. It is possible that the narrator and major characters are not so clearly conjoined as in the other novels. For all of Amis’ efforts to place Jenny’s standpoint on at least an equal footing with that of Patrick, the author may have interposed some distance between his narrator and the major characters, to a greater extent that is the case with Jim Dixon, in his first work, or John Lewis of That Uncertain Feeling (1955).

In other ways, the ribald and occasionally insensitive handling of courtship and sexual mores points to Amis’ interest in eighteenth century novelists such as Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. Take a Girl Like You begins with a familiar premise—the pursuit of the unexperienced by the worldly-wise—and adds an ending where the conquest succeeds. That Jenny suffers only temporary indisposition and feels no lasting ill effects is perhaps the author’s commentary on the divergence in outlook that has arisen over time: The advent of the welfare state and forms of birth control have cast older dilemmas in less solemn or intractable forms.

Some of Amis’ subsequent works show a departure from the English academic settings whereby his first renown was earned—science fiction, espionage writing—and, indeed, some critical studies have revealed the quest for diversity that has also led him, at times, to devote renewed attention to poetry, his first creative interest. Forms and characterizations from his earlier novels have coexisted with places and situations from other genres. Other novels have presented different issues and have dealt with aging men caugt up in cultural change with which they cannot fully cope. In Girl, 20 (1971) and Ending Up (1974), moreover, a more pronounced concern with death and decrepitude has been coupled with rather definite social and politics stances. This rather more caustic tone has also been evident even as late works have taken still other directions. In this regard, then, Take a Girl Like You may be regarded as a work situated on the borders of a transitional period during Amis’ wide-ranging and variegated career.

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